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5 Reasons We Need Openly-Gay Speculative Fiction Writers

My second book, A Fallen Hero Rises (available on AmazonB&N or Smashwords) features a main character who just so happens to be gay. People I trusted and respected advised me against it. They said it would ruin sales and alienate fantasy readers. I said screw it. I’m telling the story I want to tell because I know there’s an audience for it. I just had to find it. So I decided to research openly-gay speculative fiction writers to learn from them.

Suddenly it felt like I watching an episode of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago? Finding information on successful, openly-gay speculative fiction writers is harder than you would expect. And that’s why I wrote this article.

Here are five reasons we need more openly-gay speculative fiction writers.

1. LGBT Youth Need Gay Heroes

Recently Anthony Mackie, actor, said the following:

“When I first got this [Captain America] role I just cried like a baby because I was like, ‘Wow, next Halloween, I’m gonna open the door and there’s gonna be a little kid dressed as the Falcon. That’s the thing that always gets me. I feel like everybody deserves that. I feel like there should be a Latino superhero. Scarlett [Johansson] does great representation for all the other girls, but there should be a Wonder Woman movie. I don’t care if they make 20 bucks, if there’s a movie you’re gonna lose money on, make it Wonder Woman. You know what I mean, because little girls deserve that. There’s so many of these little people out here doing awful things for money in the world of being famous. And little girls see that. They should have the opposite spectrum of that to look up to.”

If young girls need a Wonder Woman movie, LGBT youth need a Northstar movie or perhaps a Batwoman movie. Fictional allows us to create an internal mythology. It shapes the way we view the world. However, we also need real life heroes, role models young gay men and women can look up to.

Link: Top 10 Fantasy Novels That Happen to Have Gay People In Them

2. We Need to Create an LBGT Identity

What does it mean to be gay? That depends on the media you follow. Some view it as an abomination, a perversion. Others view it as a dirty secret. So is it any wonder that teen suicide rates are higher for LGBT youth? (source: here) Gay writers of speculative fiction need to stand up and create an identity. We cannot let the nebulous “main stream media” create if for us.

Don’t underestimate the power of Ellen DeGeneres. Her visibility and acceptance has probably done more to make gay men and women feel safe than dozens of laws. Why? Because she’s allowed to exist. Just the fact she’s on TV every day may help some youth decide not to end it all.

Chuck Palahniuk: Source: http://chuckpalahniuk.net/news/fight-club-sequels-plot-revealed

3. Visibility Improves Acceptance

“I’m not straight, and I’m not gay. I’m not bisexual. I want out of the labels. I don’t want my whole life crammed into a single word. A story. I want to find something else, unknowable, some place to be that’s not on the map. A real adventure.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

Nice try, Chuck. But get real. Imagine the response if a black man stood up and said “I’m not black.” One of my heroes is Sidney Poitier. Seeing an educated, articulate black man helped me realize I did not have to be a stereotype. No matter what racist bull was thrown at him, Poitier always maintained a level of dignity. His success and visibility changed my life.

So where are the gay writers? Do a Google search for famous gay writers. Go on. Do it. The number may surprise you. Then look at how many of them write speculative fiction.  Look at how many of them stand up proudly as role models and compare it to those that are dragged out like Chuck Palahniuk.

I’m not going to lie: I’m a little bit in love with Palahniuk. Choke may be one of the best-written novels in the English language. Does it matter that he’s gay? It shouldn’t. But it does. Seeing another gay man succeed helps me realize it’s possible for me to succeed. No one’s tried to kill him or imprison him yet so maybe I’m safe.

4. Being Gay is Still Dangerous

Maybe it seems ridiculous to worry I’ll be killed by standing up and saying I’m gay. If you think that, it’s probably because you’re not reading the same news I am. There are several countries around the world that routinely imprison or kill gay men and women. Also consider the anti-gay law fiasco in Arizona earlier this year and the other states considering similar laws. (Source: here) Times have changed. But not that much

Even the CDC has a page devoted to violence and harassment aimed at LGBT youth. (Source: here)
Link: 76 Countries Where Anti-Gay Laws Are As Bad or Worse Than Russia

5. Role Models Change Lives.

Another of my role models is Clive Barker. His writing was fresh and provocative, completely revamping the way I looked at fiction. He also happened to be gay. When I first discovered him, back in the 1990s, I realized that he was allowed to be gay and successful. Suddenly I realized the two things did not have to be mutually exclusive. I didn’t have to hide because he was alive. No one was trying to kill him. He wasn’t suppressed by main stream media. His sexuality colors all his writing but is not the focus of his fame.

Because of Clive Barker, it is easier for me to be myself. My hero.

Clive Barker. Source: http://monkeypantz.net/misfit-monday-clive-barker/

Conclusion

Despite all my searching, I still can’t find a list of speculative authors who happen to be openly gay. So I will create one. Stay tuned.

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http://victoriadougherty.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/the-bone-church-real-and-imagined/

The Bone Church: Real and Imagined

bone church exteriorThe Ossuary at Sedlec – or Bone Church of Kutna Hora as it’s more commonly known – is a relatively plain church from the exterior. At least as far as Old World European standards go. It sits about an hour outside of Prague in the Czech Republic, and last time I was there, some ten years ago, it was still a dingy mustard color on the outside.

In fairness, most ossuaries are just church basements filled with neatly piled up human bones, so there typically isn’t anything out of the ordinary about the actual structure it’s housed in. There’s no electrically powered Grim Reaper standing with a scythe a chuckling a deep MWAAHHAAHAAA, the way there is at any self-respecting haunted house.

In fact, the only feature that advertised that there just might be more than meets the eye to The Bone Church of Kutna Hora was the skull and crossbones spiked at the top of its spire – right where you’d usually see a crucifix.

Otherwise, the place just sat there like Boris Karloff without make-up.

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When I visited on a gloomy October day in 2004, dragging my 20 month-old son and a prehistoric digital camera with me, I thought I would have to muscle my way through a throng of tourists.

But we were alone there.

Suitably, the only sounds we could hear were my own boot heels clicking on the stone tiles as we entered the foyer, the wheels of my son’s dilapidated MacLaren stroller and the whistle of a fall wind – the kind that blows tufts of dead leaves in a swirl. Some of those, mostly a fresh cluster of fiery orange oaks, blew with us into the Bone Church. A young man, very pale and black haired with a warm smile and crooked teeth, greeted us.

It should have been eerie, but it was exquisite.

A short staircase – also stone – led us down into the chamber, where an enormous chandelier lorded over the place. It was fashioned entirely of human bone – utilizing every bone in the human body, the young man told us in his hushed, churchy voice. The skulls would have held candles, I suppose, but the chandelier was unlit. In fact, the only light in the Bone Church came from the outside through a few kidney-shaped Gothic windows.

There were urns made primarily of femurs, a bone Coat of Arms belonging to the Schwarzenberg family, an endless garland (skull-vertebrae-vertebrae-knee cap, skull-tibia-skull-tibia) strung loosely along the trim like it was Christmas and several pyramids constructed of bones – ones that sat in iron-barred enclaves like slayed prisoners.bone church chandelier

My son and I stood there absorbing the sheer magnitude of death around us. People who’d died of flu, arsenic poisoning, small pox, swords thrust into their rib cage, a heart-attack, a mallet to the temple, infection, childbirth, trampling, a broken heart.

The bones of some 30,000 Christians beautified this stark, chapel-like holy chamber – prominent and presumably pious Christians who had been promised burial in the Church of All Saints cemetery. But due to a string of plagues and wars, had found themselves without a place to land after they blew their last breath.

bone church 6

It occurred to me this strange permanent installation of sacred art – the devil’s art, some called it – was actually a clever solution to a very sensitive dilemma. Church teachings, after all, forbade cremation. And the poor souls who had counted on burial in the Church of All Saints holy cemetery had paid considerable tithes to earn their way into some kind of dignified and noble entombment.

And what could be more noble than the care and inspired vision required to create such a communal, yet deeply personal way to honor the departed? To me, it was the ultimate expression of both grief and hope.

cherub bone church

My little son – and my first and most tender reminder of my own mortality – was getting restless and hungry, so I snapped a couple of pictures and we left.

But The Bone Church stayed with me and made its way into a story I’d begun writing.

The Bone Church: A Novel is now available on Amazon:

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http://www.amazon.com/The-Bone-Church-A-Novel/dp/061598052X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397503269&sr=8-1&keywords=the+bone+church+victoria+dougherty

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JA Konrath’s wonderful insights into today’s world of digital publishing:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/04/letter-from-literary-agent.html

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Letter from a Literary Agent

I found this in my inbox yesterday:

Joe,
 
First off, thank you. I’ve been struggling with a lot of aspects of working “inside” the publishing industry lately. I found your blog following a link trail one day last week. I sat down and promptly started reading from 2009(when you dove into self-publishing) until present. You make a ton of sense.
 
Unfortunately, you didn’t do anything to make me feel better about my current position (although, that’s not your job). I’ve been struggling with my role as an advocate for authors. I have been working on one contract now for almost four months. I keep going back to fight for my client and each round feels like I’m getting both closer and farther away from an agreement that will make either one of us any money. I work mainly with small presses that offer better terms that the large houses, but even those terms feel unfair to my clients.
 
The challenge comes in continuing to seek out contracts for my clients when I keep doubting that it is the best path for them. At the same time, I know many of my clients have no desire to self-publish. They don’t want to mess with the back-end aspects, even if that costs them money in the long term. Will they change their minds after a few contracts have run their course? Maybe, but only time will tell.
 
I love your estribution model, but I don’t think it’s feasible for me. Neither I nor my agency have the kind of liquid capital to invest heavily in multiple clients when it comes to things such as editing, cover art, etc. I want to help my clients, but I don’t personally have the money to invest in their careers. What I do have is time, skills and a deep desire to give my clients the best chance at success.
 
You have so many great ideas about publishing and I admire the way you innovate. I’m wondering if you have thought of any other models, similar to estribution, that would allow me to help a client who is hesitant to self-publish without tying up money I don’t have. I want to do what’s right by my clients, but right now any path feels like a loss when I know they don’t want to self-pub, but are unlikely to be happy in the years to come with most traditional deals.
 
I know you get a metric ton of email, so I understand if you can’t answer this. If you decide to address this topic on your blog, I just ask that you keep me anonymous. I do plan to discuss this with the owner of my agency, but don’t want to blindside her. I appreciate your understanding.
Joe sez: I’ve said before that no one owes you a living. That goes for agents as well as authors.
In the past, agents filled an essential role in the legacy publishing industry. If you convinced a good literary agent to represent you, it improved your odds at getting your book read by a publisher, and consequently improved your odds at getting published.
I couldn’t have gotten pubbed without my agent. And besides helping me land my legacy contracts, she has also fought to improve their terms, and sold dozens of subsidiary rights (audio, foreign, movie).
Since I began to self-pub, my agent has helped me in an estributor capacity, especially when it comes to my collaborations. I find the percentage she recieves is well worth the work and monetary investment she puts in.
But how about agents, like the one who sent me the above email, who want to work with authors but can’t invest money in cover art and formatting?
I have some advice. And the advice is the same as it is for authors who don’t want to self-publish:
Find another line of work.
I’m not trying to be flippant, or harsh. I’m being entirely realistic. Allow me to use some analogies.
“I want to be a mechanic, but don’t want to learn how to work on engines.”
I suppose you could limit yourself to just brakes, or transmissions, but you won’t be able to find work as easily, and you’re missing out on a big part of what the title mechanic means.
“I want my art to hang in museums, but don’t know how to get it in there.”
 
Before you create a key, study the lock. Working on something and expecting the world to embrace it doesn’t happen too often.
“I want to be a surgeon, but am afraid of the sight of blood.”
Maybe you can become a tree surgeon.
“I want to play poker for a living, but not with my money.”
No one is going to stake you until you prove yourself. And once you prove yourself, you probably won’t need anyone to stake you.
“I want to manufacture wagon wheels, but there isn’t a market for them anymore.”
You can still make all the wagon wheels you want to. Just don’t expect to sell any.
“I want to be a contract lawyer, but my contracts are never accepted by either negotiating party.”
Sounds like you won’t get a lot of business.
My point is that the roles of writers, and agents, have changed. The industry has changed. Expectations have changed. What was once the norm is now the exception.
Writers, and agents, if they want to thrive (or even survive) have to develop new skills, take on new responsibilities, and take different chances.
This means learning about the current state of the industry, doing things outside your comfort zone, and ponying up a few bucks.
I expect contract negotiations with publishers to get even harder as more and more publishers become aware that they aren’t needed. Since there continue to be writers who insist on going the legacy route, publishers will make those writers pay.
Consider the taxi cab. There are many alternatives to getting around town, and all of them are cheaper. Yet cabs can command a premium, because they provide a service for those who want it. Just like publishers.
You can’t negotiate with a cab driver for a lower fare.
Consider textbooks. As a student, you’re forced to pay $200 for a single book. The publishers know this, and they price accordingly. The school bookstores also know this, and they make used books almost as expensive as new books. They gouge. It’s human nature. If you can get more for something, you will.
Publishing, as of April 2014, is a market still controlled by publishers. They can set the terms, because there are still plenty of eager authors willing to give up 70% royalties and rights forever. When more authors catch on that signing a legacy deal isn’t in their best interests, publishers will begin to leverage everything they can from those who remain.

One might think the opposite will happen: that publishers will try to lure authors to them with better terms.

I don’t see that happening. Profit margins are already too thin, and while the Big 5 keep posting record sales figures thanks to ebooks, the trend won’t last forever. As paper sales dwindle and their monopoly on distribution ends, and more and more authors leave legacy to self-pub, publishers will squeeze the suppliers (authors) they still have. Right now advances are shrinking, some acquisitions aren’t even getting paper releases, and print runs are down. When belts begin to tighten, the last thing publishers will do is offer authors more of the pie. Like starving dogs, the Big 5 will viciously fight over the scraps that remain.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe publishers will start treating authors fairly, and become more open to negotiation with agents. And then Satan and I will go ice-skating in hell.

There are only two essential groups in the reader/writer relationship: readers and writers. Everyone else is a middleman who has to prove their value.

Some writers don’t want to self-publish, so there will be some agents and some publishers who can assist them for a piece of the pie. But as more and more writers learn how easy it is to reach readers, I see those who pursue careers as agents, or those who work in the publishing industry, becoming a niche.
Unless publishers and agents offer authors something they really want, at a cost authors are willing to pay, we’re going to see their numbers dwindle.
If you are an author who doesn’t want to get your hands dirty by self-publishing, your choices are going to be limited. If you are an agent who can’t assist writers by becoming an estributor, your choices are going to be limited.
It doesn’t have anything to do with what’s fair. Or how things used to be. Or what authors and agents want.
It has everything to do with how readers are finding books to read.
If you want to be a part of the reader/writer business transaction, there is no magic bullet or formula or business model that I’m aware of which doesn’t involve either legacy publishing or estribution. If you want to work with authors, you have to give authors something they want.
It would be great if we could shape the world into what we want it to be, but mostly we have to figure out how to work with how things are.
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This content has been syndicated from JA Konrath:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/04/suffering-fools.html

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Suffering Fools

Are you a writer?
Do you leave comments on forums, blogs, and/or social networks?If either or both apply to you, you’ve probably encountered pinheads before.

Perhaps they left you a snotty book review. Maybe they attacked you instead of your book. Maybe they didn’t even read the book.

Perhaps they trolled your blog, or tried to engage you in a flame war in a forum, or misquoted you or lied about you.

If so, welcome to the Internet, where people write things they’d never say to your face, and anonymity makes the weakest coward brave and full of themself.

There is a simple, yet effective, way to deal with pinheads:

Ignore them.

You shouldn’t Google yourself, or read your reviews, or seek out what others are saying about you, good or bad. None of it matters. The only people that matter are those in your inner circle. The rest of the world has no power over you unless you allow it.

Don’t allow it. There will always be negative people. There will always be trolls. There will always be pinheads. It isn’t your job to deal with them. They aren’t worth your time.

Ignore them.

If you don’t have people who disagree with you, dislike you, and want you to fail, you aren’t living up to your potential.

Q: But Joe, someone just gave me a one star review for no reason at all.

A: Ignore them.

Q: But I only have a few reviews, and that blew my four star average.

A: If it is against the site’s rules, report the review. But you’d be better off not reading your reviews in the first place. Readers aren’t stupid. They can sniff out hateful one-star reviews the same way they can sniff out phony five-star reviews.

Q: What if the review misrepresents the book? Should I reply?

A: In 99.99% of circumstances, you shouldn’t reply to a review. On a very rare occassion (like this one) you can add a comment. But always be gracious, and keep your tone respectful.

Q: But what if someone really hurt my feelings? What should I do?

A: Have a beer and talk to your best friend. But don’t respond to the pinhead.

Q: Don’t you respond to pinheads on your blog?

A: I control my blog, and I don’t mind being trolled. But if things get out of hand, I kick people out and delete their comments. The only place you’ll have similar power is on your own blog. Everywhere else on the Internet, you should ignore them.

Q: You said to ignore them, but you just admitted that sometimes you don’t ignore them.

A: There aren’t many absolutes in life. There will usually be exceptions. But overall your best bet is to leave the tools in the toolbox. Don’t engage. Don’t respond. Ignore them.

Q: But this pinhead/review/comment is hurting my sales. How can I ignore that?

A: If you’re writing good books, one person/review/comment won’t hurt your sales. A hundred people/reviews/comments won’t hurt your sales.

Q: But I’m being systematically targeted by a cadre of haters who stalk me 24/7.

A: In very, very, very rare cases, you can involve the authorities. But my guess is you’re just being overly touchy. The baddest of the bad people on the Internet thrive on provoking responses. If you don’t respond, you take away their power.

Q: What if other people see those lies about me? Shouldn’t I reply?

A: No. And give people some credit. Do you ever Google someone, find something negative someone said about them, and assume that’s all there is to know? Or do you research further?

EVERY celebrity has haters. EVERY author has one star reviews. You aren’t being persecuted. Don’t take it personally, because you’re not that special. You’re just one of billions of Internet users who have been trolled. Welcome to the human race.

Q: But what about intelligent discourse? Do I need to avoid all debate?

A: Debate those who debate respectfully. Ignore those who don’t.

Q: Why are there so many pinheads on the Internet?

A: Human beings have a desire for control. It’s genetic. For some, the need for control extends beyond self. Some people with certain personality disorders (sociopaths, grandiose narcissists, those with low self-esteem and/or small penises) need to control others in order to feel good about themselves. One way to control someone is to tweak their emotional response.

That’s why you shouldn’t engage. If you don’t like what someone says, the greatest gift you can give that pinhead is to react.

Ignore them. Write that on a Post-It note if you have to and stick it to your monitor.

No one else cares if people are saying shit about you. The only one who cares is you. You need to pay more attention to your writing, and no attention to the pinheads.

Now turn off Google Alerts and get back to work.

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